In addition to taking the blame for the bullpen phone snafu on Monday night, Tony La Russa yesterday explained the failed hit and run with Albert Pujols at bat and Allen Craig on first. In doing so he confirmed what everyone suspected and what he himself briefly said on Monday: that Pujols has the authority to call a hit and run himself.
Which is certainly not unprecedented. As Tim McCarver noted after it happened, many players have had this ability. He mentioned Cal Ripken. Others have mentioned guys like Tony Gwynn. Some writers say that Kirk Gibson allows several members of the Diamondbacks to do it. It’s not the sort of thing we hear much about but, yes, it’s a thing.
And here’s how La Russa explained it during his presser:
“The other thing that’s so great about it, if you stop and think about it, a great hitter like Albert, there’s situations come up in a game where the hit-and-run in the manager’s opinion is the play, and you really wonder what message you’re sending your great player when you put the hit-and-run on, because you’re kind of saying, ‘We don’t want you to swing the bat.’
“So when a guy like Albert is so receptive to playing the game right, that’s kind of why I’m so aggressive in addressing this. It’s really a humongous break for our club when a great player wants to play the game right. And that’s kind of the point I want to make.”
Here’s my problem with it: why would that ever be a good play with your big bopper at the plate? The hit and run is a one-run strategy. And practically, it’s a much safer play if you have a contact hitter at the plate. Yes, Pujols is something special and doesn’t strike out at the rate your typical power hitter does, but he’s not exactly the guy you just want putting a bat on a ball. You want him waiting for something he can drive. He’s pretty darn good at that, actually.
La Russa admits that it’s bad to send the message to a great hitter that you want to take the bat out of his hands. Yet he says that Pujols wanting to take the bat out of his own hands is “playing the game right.” I can’t help but disagree. It seems like it’s never, ever right to do that to a guy like Pujols. And if it never makes sense to hit and run with Pujols at the plate, you have to question why he has the power to call such a play at all.